losing and finding stuff
Everyone knows someone who is prone to losing stuff. They are forever misplacing their keys, phone, wallet, purse, whatever. I always know exactly where those things are. I am one of those people prone to losing the big stuff in life. The most interesting thing I ever lost was my high school. Yup. Not an easy thing to do when you live in the same neighbourhood in the same house since you are a toddler. You’d pretty much figure that I’d know where everything is located and could find my way around blindfolded. I’ll never forget the day I lost the school. I did eventually find it but it took me most of the day.
As a severe agoraphobic, there was no way to get me out of the house without some form of sedation. It started when I was very young. Forcing an agoraphobic child to walk to school and then spend the day surrounded by hundreds of other people in a large building, with recesses outside, is indescribably traumatic. I was forever asking permission to go to the bathroom so I could give myself “time outs” in the small bathroom stalls where I could be alone for a few minutes, relax, breathe, and try to pull myself together. Often have a good cry. Try my damnedest to get the shaking under control so people wouldn’t notice. When I was ten years old my family doctor prescribed sedatives for me at my mother’s insistence because she was exhausted by the constant struggle to force me to go to school at least three days a week, sometimes four. I simply couldn’t cope. I had constant hellacious migraines and emotional breakdowns that I couldn’t control and was only able to sleep every other night. My life was a living hell. The introduction to sedatives provided initial relief, but it’s an old, old, old story that they were the beginning of a different kind of hell for me, one that would damn near kill me. And that’s how I lost my high school.
I was fifteen years old, in grade ten, and my grades weren’t very good. I remember thinking, “That’s enough! I’m NOT stupid! If I do everything I’m supposed to do and get A’s on all my work from now on I can be Valedictorian by the time I finish. I’m sick and tired of feeling like a loser. From now on I’m going to do everything right!” And with that determination I dressed myself in my finest clothes, put on my makeup with the greatest of care, and put on my dress heeled shoes to make myself look as business-like and as serious as possible. I was on a mission, I’m telling you. I wasn’t fooling around. I was going to school that day to become the best student they had ever seen. I would win every award and earn every accolade. But first…I needed to calm my badly shaking hands and knees. A few pills and a few chugs of whatever dad had in his liquor cabinet and I was on my way!
By the time I got to the busy main road which was a straight line all the way to the school I realized I was weaving so badly that people were staring. Uh oh. Thinking I’d ‘straighten up’ by the time I got to school, I decided make my way via the quiet back neighbourhood roads and cut through a small forest park, a route I hadn’t taken in a long time. Not only didn’t I ‘straighten up’, I went downhill, became hopelessly confused and lost in the same neighbourhood streets I’d played all of my life. I might as well have been blindfolded. I did straighten up by the time I found the high school but only because it took me a few hours. I had blisters all over my feet from the high heels I was wearing when I walked into the Principal’s office and told him I wanted to quit. He took a good look at me, as he had many times in the two years I’d been there, and agreed it just might be a good idea for me to leave and come back to try again at a later date. How sad is that? I left my house that morning with the full intention of becoming Valedictorian and by the time I got to school I realized I was such an abominable mess I might as well just drop out of high school. And no one argued the point.
However…I’m really good at finding stuff too. Great stuff. And great people. I found Robyn Emmons, a fellow agoraphobic. All my life I thought I was just plain crazy and loathed myself for my weakness. I didn’t know I had a disorder called agoraphobia until I met Robyn. De-personalizing the issue changed my life. Treating the agoraphobia gave me back the World. I could go anywhere I wanted and do anything I wanted. I had my Freedom. And so it was time to finish all the things I’d left undone. The biggest one for me was graduating high school. And that’s where I found some other utterly outstanding human beings. One of whom I just lost. Donna Carpenter. She was one of my teachers from the adult high school I attended from the ages of 28 to 30 where I graduated with honours in all my classes, and I do mean full cap and gown graduation, not an equivalency. Of this I am very proud. But I am profoundly more proud to have known Ms. Donna Carpenter.
I stood in awe of her self-assuredness, her self-confidence, her competency. I knew that I was in the presence of a woman who knew her own worth and was at home in the world. I wanted that. When you find someone who has or is what you want, stay with them, spend as much time with them as you can. Learn how they came to be who they are. I spent a great deal more time at the school than was required of me and spending time around Donna was very much a part of that reason. I was too poor to be able to take the bus every day so I walked the forty-five minutes each way. By the time I graduated two years later I had fabulous legs!
What did Donna actually teach me? Too much to list here. I will say that she taught me to believe in my talent as a writer. Whether anyone else thinks I can write the way I have always wanted to or not, I do, and that is enough. She introduced me to the simple pleasure of stuffed grape leaves. Donna was a world traveller and fell in love with stuffed grape leaves in Greece. She has also been to Japan and Venezuela and…forgive me…I forget where else. Many wonderful places. Donna loved Life and living. After the life of fear I led I wanted to be like that, in love with the world, with exploring. When I was a very small child, before my first agoraphobic attack that closed the door to Life for me, I dreamed of working for National Geographic, travelling to remote places and recording the experience for other people so everyone would know what was in the world, missing out on nothing.
It’s another story for another day, but while I was in the adult high school I met a man who was to become my lifetime mate. He happened to be a wilderness canoeist. There are quite a few stories of this agoraphobic being introduced to the true Canadian wilderness.